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Spooksvilla + Friends

Opening Hours
Today: 11:30am–7:30pm
309 East 9th Street
Spooksvilla + Friends 1 Gift Shops Novelty East Village

Shahrzad Ghajar, founder of the gift shop Spooksvilla + friends, takes curation to another level. She meets with each of the artists represented in the store and personally chooses every piece showcased on the walls and shelves.

Shahrzad, herself, is a talented artist, and many of her designs are featured in the shop. By focusing on the artists, Spooksvilla ensures that everything for sale - from apparel to wall art - is one-of-a-kind. “We like to be representative of original people doing original things— be it art, products, charms or any other kind of cool item," said Ethan Velez, manager of Spooksvilla.

Despite the fact that multiple artists contribute to Spooksvilla, the store is not a hodgepodge of styles. Rather, the art is united in its bold, whimsical designs. A favorite is the label on the bottle of the rose bath salts - a piece of art in itself. A woman with purple skin and purple hair rides a pink dragon, holding, of course, roses.

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Spooksvilla + Friends 1 Gift Shops Novelty East Village
Spooksvilla + Friends 2 Gift Shops Novelty East Village
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Spooksvilla + Friends 4 Gift Shops Novelty East Village
Spooksvilla + Friends 5 Gift Shops Novelty East Village

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Pink Olive

Laughing, Grace Kang told me that when she was first getting started and running operations out of her apartment, her doorman handed her a box and commented, “Olives aren’t pink! ” She went on to explain the name, which, like many aspects of Pink Olive, is inspired by her niece, who has quite the imagination. Being that her niece loved pink and Grace was partial to both pink and green, Grace chose to name the business after those two colors. However, she did not want to name her store “Pink Green, ” so she decided on “Pink Olive, ” which suggests that in the fanciful world of the store, pink olive trees grow. Though Grace is originally from the West Coast, she considers New York to be the place where she grew up professionally. Her experience as a buyer at Bloomingdales, Saks, and Barney’s helped shape her skill set and her career. “I’m very Cali at heart, but New York is my home, ” she told me. Her customers see Pink Olive as a New York-centric business, and after speaking with her, it was clear that the city featured prominently both in her original development of her gift store idea and its current identity. When Grace first started looking for a space for her whimsical gift shop, she contemplated numerous locations, but one day, her mentor suggested that she should “go into an area that you have a personal connection with. ” Grace admitted, “The East Village always felt like home to me, ” and so immediately following her meeting, she decided to take a stroll in the neighborhood, spotted a For Rent sign on 9th Street, and started the ball rolling at an alarming pace. In 2007, Pink Olive was given a home. Grace’s business has evolved since its inception - it began primarily as a store for babies, and then expanded to include more gifts for every age. In the years since she opened, she has noticed that there are more and more new babies named Olive. At the same time as Pink Olive's opening, two Japanese girls started Atsuyo et Akiko. Grace began carrying their “Je t’aime NY” onesies, which continue to be a top seller for New York babies. Some of the other items that Grace cannot keep in stock are the New York metro card rattles made by Estella. She pointed out that the items are “a no-brainer, but unique. ” Pink Olive is where people now come for tasteful New York-themed gifts for every age range. Additionally, there are clever cards, scented candles, and chic accessories, among many other delightfully whimsical items. When I asked Grace how working as a buyer for the women’s departments of more corporate companies helped her in opening Pink Olive, she said that buying for women’s fashion is very different from buying for a gift store, but that she is glad to have had the experience. In fashion, everything is far more fast-paced, since lines are seasonal. Grace said it was very much like the mantra about succeeding in New York: “If you can survive the fashion world, you can survive anywhere in the buying world. ” But Grace is very happy to have followed her more personal passion by entering the gift business. She considers her time at Pink Olive extremely rewarding, since she can be a part of the special moments in people’s lives, whether it is a birthday, a new baby, sending snail mail to an old friend, or redecorating an apartment. And Grace feels that special moments are not few and far between: “I truly believe that everyday there’s a reason to celebrate. ”

More places on 9th Street

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The warmly painted walls inside Veselka envelop the room in folky florals and traditional Ukrainian symbols. Hanging from the ceiling are glowing milk glass globes that seem to replace the sun or moon depending on the time of day — and it could be any time at all, as Veselka is open for twenty-four hours, seven days a week, serving a smorgasbord of pierogis, bowls of borscht, and other expertly prepared comfort foods — Ukrainian and otherwise. Wlodymyr Darmochwal planted roots for Veselka when, as one of the founders of the neighborhood Plast organization (akin to the Ukrainian boy scouts, teaching survival skills and Ukrainian language), he was asked to create a weekend study program for the boys. In response, he opened a five-and-dime style counter at the corner of East 9th Street and Second Avenue where the boys could buy paper clips, cigarettes, lighters, and, notably, bowls of borscht and other basic Ukrainian foods. The business expanded into another storefront on East 9th Street a decade later. After Wlodymyr’s passing in 1972, it was taken over by his stepson, Tom Birchard, who was later joined by his son, Jason. Today, having worked at the restaurant since he was a teenager, Jason has “done every single job possible here except cook the borscht. ”When Jason joined the team, one of his first projects was to find out, “How late can we stay open? ” It turns out the answer was “all night. ” As Tom and Jason once again prepare to expand the restaurant into an adjoining storefront on 9th Street, they are eager to continue serving the next generation the kind of traditional Ukrainian food that Wlodymyr would have had at his counter more than sixty years ago.

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The essence of Duo is in its name; it is two things at once. It is dulled colors and clean lines, minimalist in feel but simultaneously filled with warmth and softness. Both young and old, vibrant and calm, it is modern and fresh but brings to mind memories of simpler times: of handwritten letters, cozy Sunday afternoons and soft breezes over the wide open fields of northern Minnesota, the owners’ home state. Conflicting and complementing all at once, Duo is the product of two minds at work. Sisters Wendy and LaRae Kangas have created a perfect little fashion oasis that fits right in with the small town vibes of Manhattan’s East Village. Growing up, Wendy and LaRae pestered each other and fought over clothes, as siblings will do, but in 2008 they decided to open up a shop together. Today, they work with dealers and emerging independent designers throughout the country and pick all their clothing, accessories and home goods by hand, combining masculine and feminine styles with modern silhouettes and vintage traces to curate a timeless collection of quality, classic pieces. “It’s a very personal process, ” they told me, “and we put a lot of love into our shop and our collections. ” Nothing at Duo is mass-produced, and most of their merchandise is recycled. The sisters pour their hearts into the shop and work hard to stay true to themselves while keeping an eye toward the future, expanding their business into the world of e-commerce and social media. “It’s important to stay current and give the customers what they want, ” they said. They love what they do, and working with family makes it even more fun, according to the sisters. “It makes work smooth when you don’t have to verbalize what you’re thinking, ” they told me, “We just know what each other is thinking and it makes choosing products and daily operations much easier. ”Duo is a celebration of creative spirit. It is clear that the sisters revel in the one-of-a-kind individuality of each and every one of their customers who come to them looking for pieces that will express their own unique style. When explaining what they love about their work, they said, “It’s great to make a customer feel better when they walk out the door. ”

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Pillow-Cat Books

Tucked into a cozy storefront on E9th Street, Pillow-Cat Books is — for any literary-minded animal lover — the cat’s meow. Guarded by the shop’s namesake cat, the bookstore opened by author Cleo Le-Tan is the city’s first animal-themed bookshop, offering new, used and vintage books across genre and language with one uniting theme — at least one animal or animal character within its pages. Cleo, a New York-based writer and the daughter of famed New Yorker illustrator Pierre Le-Tan, was inspired to open Pillow-Cat Books in September 2021 after working on A Book Lover’s Guide to New York, itself a charming tribute to the Big Apple’s best independent bookstores. “I interviewed people who have bookshops, and then I realized, ‘Oh, I want my own! ” she told the Manhattan Sideways team when we happened upon her eclectic collection one sunny Friday. She began to curate and source a stock of animal-themed works, finding special joy in hard-to-find tomes from years past. “I love vintage children’s books from the 1950s and 1960s, ” said Cleo, surrounded by books available to shop by category of animal as well as subject matter. Cleo told Manhattan Sideways that settling down in the East Village on 9th Street among the block’s many other speciality retail shops was one of her favorite parts about running Pillow-Cat. “I think it's a really nice block — I like how many independent, unique shops there are, ” she noted. “It’s a fun block because you get people coming from Tompkins Square Park who are friendly and local, but you also get visitors. ” We’d have to agree — as we browsed the shop, we already noticed several grateful visitors building their own stacks, making sure to give Pillow-Cat a pet on their way out. 

More Novelty nearby

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Random Accessories

Tucked in the heart of the East Village, Random Accessories is a small and colorful treasure chest of hundreds of gift items that “you can send to anyone, anytime”, according to Lynn, the owner. From greeting cards to jewelry and hip T-shirts, Lynn has been committed to offering customers a diverse range of gifts since 1996. With extensive experience in jewelry buying and retail (as a manager for Brookstone), Lynn knows the formula for a good gift business: “Make it interesting and make it reasonably priced”. While Lynn, a local New Yorker, admits that she did not have a “clear, set idea” for the business when she started Random Accessories, she mentioned that over time the pieces started falling together into the cheerful and rich concept it is today. Her objective is to help people find the perfect gift, no matter the circumstances, whether they are on their way to a party or buying for a special occasion like Valentine’s Day. The key to such a goal for Lynn is variety of product. “We always have different items” Lynn said. One of the store's more plentiful areas is the baby gift section. Lynn explained that a “baby boom” of sorts over the last twelve years has made infant and toddler gifts extremely popular items. But Lynn stresses that the mix of goods is always changing, and when asked about potential new items in the future, her reply was energizing and straightforward: “We’re not limited by anything except what fits in the store”.

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La Sirena Mexican Folk Art

After making frequent trips to Mexico and being unable to stay there as she wished, Dina Leor decided to do the next best thing: She brought Mexico to New York. Her success is evident upon walking into the store: Everything is covered in paper flowers and bright colors, enough to lift the spirits of any New Yorker wandering in on a gray day. A Lilliputian party of skeletal characters dance on a shelf for Día de los Muertos and little metal charms called “Milagros” or “miracles” cover many of the pieces. Dina carries everything from simple keychains and children’s toys to elaborate folk art, but each piece has a special meaning, often explained by little handwritten cards on the shelves. Dina is an artist herself: she used to make colorful boxes. When she opened La Sirena in 1999, she was essentially creating a bigger box: A box housing art and culture. She calls it her “evolving assemblage, ” a “living altar. ”La Sirena attracts all sorts of people. While I was visiting, there was a Swiss family browsing, straight from the airport. Since Dina’s was the first store they had found, they gave her a little box of Swiss chocolates. Many of Dina’s customers, however, are regulars, and Mexicans themselves. While spending time with Dina, she told me how a Mexican man had walked in and started weeping, because the store reminded him of his grandmother and he had not been able to go home to visit her. The store is “an umbrella of the republic, ” Dina says, and many regions of Mexico are represented. Dina went on to tell me another story, while explaining that she carries items from $2 to $500. One day she had a Mexican mother come in and gush over the merchandise. The woman wanted to get something for her four children, but only had a twenty-dollar bill. Dina helped her find four hand-made items and felt very proud when the cash register read “$19. 60. ” Some of the pricier pieces in the store come from the expatriate New Yorker Sue Kreitzman, a cookbook writer-turned-artist, whose work is celebrated in England, where she now resides. She uses echoes of Mexican folk art in her work. La Sirena provides her with many materials and is proud to feature her art. The history and familial meaning behind all the art is fascinating: Dina explained to me that in Mexico, life and art are not clearly separated. Artistic items are often family efforts, and children will frequently come home from school in the afternoon and help paint or sculpt or craft. The art is “handmade by beautiful people: ” when she travels around Mexico, people welcome her into their home and give her tortillas to represent reciprocal warmth. One of the most beautiful sights that she has seen on her travels was a woman breast-feeding while making clay pieces at the home of Josefina Aguilar, now well-known in the folk art community. “It’s part of the circle of life, ” Dina says: making art among nature, raising children, and teaching them the same artistic passions. Dina herself is part of this circle of life: As the adopted daughter of Mexico, she is continuing its artistic traditions and teaching them, in turn, to New Yorkers.